TOMS RIVER - While second-year Marlboro coach Ryan Morris was happy that his team was the most improved team in the Shore Conference by record last season, he saw that level of progress as something close to inevitable.

"There was nowhere to go but up," Morris said.

If being the most improved team in the Shore Conference last year was almost inevitable, being the most improved team in the conference for a second straight year is almost inconceivable.

The way Morris and his year-two group see it, however, nothing this year is impossible.

After dismantling Toms River North - the No. 9 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 - on the road Saturday, 4-0, Marlboro is now 4-0 through the season's first two weeks with a goal differential of 17-2.

Marlboro players from left: Ethan Schlesinger, Noah Rosen, Max Shushkovsky and Mike Steinberg. (Photo by Paula Lopez)
Marlboro players from left: Ethan Schlesinger, Noah Rosen, Max Shushkovsky and Mike Steinberg. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

Only Monmouth Regional has a better differential than Marlboro's plus-15 and Monmouth has not played Marlboro's level of schedule. In four games, Marlboro has pummeled Brick (6-1), Manalapan (5-0) and now the Mariners and also clipped No. 8 Middletown South, 2-1.

"It's a fun season so far and a really fun group," Morris said. "They are all in it for each other, they put in the hard work and they go 110 percent every single game. It's something we haven't seen for the last two years. They are a good group of kids that battles for each other and you can't beat that."

The hot start suggest Marlboro is ready to build on its 2018 season, in which the Mustangs went 8-7-3 and qualified for both the Shore Conference and NJSIAA Group IV Tournaments after going 1-14-2 the season prior.

Although the players on this year's team have more of a connection to the rough 2017 season, the one they hope to model is 2016 - the year the Mustangs won a school-record 22 games and reached the finals of both the SCT and the Central Jersey Group IV Tournament.

"We want to make history," senior Max Shushkovsky said. "We want to be a really special team this year compared to previous years. We have the pieces and we are just really motivated as a group to keep winning and prove that Marlboro is still one of the top programs in the Shore Conference."

On Saturday, Marlboro's qualities were on full display, most notably its balanced, unselfish attack. Four different players scored a goal and four other players had a hand in creating the four scores.

"There are no egos here," Shushkovsky said. "Everyone is working together for the same collective goal. We all want to win and we all want to play together. No one is trying to just score all the goals. We all want to work together and we keep saying if we can keep playing like this, no one can beat us."

Junior Kyle Lin opened the scoring in the 16th minute with his first varsity goal, which came after senior Noah Rosen slipped him the ball through the defense for the first of his two assists.

The second Marlboro goal started with a dangerous 19-yard free kick by senior Mike Steinberg, who smashed the shot off the crossbar. Senior Mitchell Katsman poked the rebound closer to the end-line and senior Dan Risin finished off the goal to give the Mustangs a 2-0 lead in the 38th minute.

Shushkovsky joined the party in the 55th minute, taking a pass from Rosen, spinning between two defenders and ripping a low strike to the far left corner of the goal.

Senior Ethan Steinberg capped the scoring in the 77th when he poked in a rebound of sophomore Max Rosen's initial 30-yard rip off the crossbar.

Throw in a solid defensive effort spearheaded by senior center back Ethan Schlesinger and a two-save shutout by sophomore goal-keeper Nick Tango and Saturday's performance was a near-flawless all-around effort by Marlboro. The Mustangs outshot he Mariners 19-6 and 13 of those 19 shot attempts were on goal with two more hitting the crossbar.

"The kids have bought into everything we have said since day one," Morris said. "We do tactical discussions and they all know their role going into the game and they all know what to expect.


"From the start of the game until the end of the game, they are already prepared for what they are going to see and I couldn't ask for a better group of people to fulfill everything that we ask for. They are putting in all the hard work, they are buying in, they are busting their tail every single day because they know they don't want to go back to where they were two years ago."

Marlboro will put its collective confidence to the test this week, when it hosts Christian Brothers Academy on Tuesday, then travels to play Howell on Thursday and Wall on Wednesday.

Those opportunities present what could be a validating week for a program that is two years removed from one of its low points but only three years removed from one of its best seasons ever.

"Last year, I think we gave CBA a ton of respect - probably too much respect," Morris said, referring to a 5-1 loss to the Colts last year. "Coming off a 1-14 season against one of the top teams in the state, you have to give them that respect. These guys aren't going to do that. These guys are ready to go toe-to-toe with anybody."


Box Score

Marlboro 4, Toms River North 0

Marlboro (4-0)224
TR North (2-0)000

Goals (Assists): (M) Kyle Lin (Noah Rosen) 16', Dan Risin (Mitchell Katsman) 38', Max Shushkovsky (Noah Rosen) 56', Ethan Steinberg (Max Rosen) 77'
Shots: Marlboro, 19-6
Saves: (M) Nick Tango 2; (TRN) Brennan Anderson 9